Adventures In Audio
Could quiet be the new loud?

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

Friday March 20, 2009

Mixes have definitely gotten louder in recent years. Of course there is no way that digital audio can go higher in level than full scale (0 dBFS), but the closer and more often a signal approaches 0 dBFS, then the louder it will sound. The tools for this are compression, limiting, very careful clipping, and of course the multi-band compressor.

The reason why mixes have gotten louder is firstly because the equipment and software to make them so has become more common and more affordable, and more people know about it. The second is that mixes compete with each other for loudness.

Take radio for example. Within the terms of a radio broadcaster's licence to transmit, they have to agree to a certain transmission power level. There is nothing that can be done in the studio to make a signal any higher in level than that. This is the radio station's equivalent of 0dBFS. But if mixes can be made subjectively louder in the studio, it follows that whoever's mix is subjectively the loudest will sound loudest on air. Other mixes will be quieter in comparison. And loudness gets attention.

The same applies in clubs. The level of a PA system is set to comply with the limits of the equipment, and often decibel limits applied by law or property rental agreements. So if a mix can sound subjectively louder within the same peak levels, it will be at an advantage compared to mixes that are not subjectively so loud.

But the downside to this is that all the processes that make a mix loud downgrade the audio quality. So if you don't want to listen so loud, it won't sound so good.

There is no area where this is more significant than music for TV and film use. If you are tempted to 'master' your mixes and 'optimize' them for loudness, then you are damaging your audio quality to no good purpose. Your music is probably only going to be background anyway. For a title theme, then the post production house will optimize the levels as it thinks necessary.

Although mastering is a straightforward process to apply, it is impossible to 'unmaster' a track. Best advice is to make a mix without any compression or limiting on the stereo mix - maybe some EQ if you wish. Then make a mastered version if you feel you need to. This way you always have a clean, unmastered version of the mix that is versatile and can be applied to any kind of use.

Like, follow, and comment on this article at Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram or the social network of your choice.

Come on the Audio Masterclass Pro Home Studio MiniCourse - 60 great hints and tips to get your home recording studio MOVING

It's FREE!

Get It Now >>

How to choose the best key for your song

What is comb filtering? What does it sound like?

NEW: Audio crossfades come to Final Cut Pro X 10.4.9!

What is the difference between EQ and filters? *With Audio*

What difference will a preamp make to your recording?

Watch our video on linear phase filters and frequency response with the FabFilter Pro Q 2

Read our post on linear phase filters and frequency response with the Fabfilter Pro Q 2

Harmonic distortion with the Soundtoys Decapitator

What's the best height for studio monitors? Answer - Not too low!

What is the Red Book standard? Do I need to use it? Why?

Will floating point change the way we record?

Mixing: What is the 'Pedalboard Exception'?

The difference between mic level and line level

The problem with parallel compression that you didn't know you had. What it sounds like and how to fix it.

Compressing a snare drum to even out the level

What does parallel compression on vocals sound like?

How to automate tracks that have parallel compression

Why mono is better than stereo for recording vocals and dialogue

Clipping and compressing a drum recording to achieve an exciting sound texture

What can we learn about room acoustics from this image?

Can you hear the subtle effect of the knee control of the compressor? (With audio and video demonstrations)

What is the best studio microphone?

What is the Neve sound? (Using the Slate Digital FG-73)

What is the difference between recording, mixing and mastering?